Don't be fooled. Inside this thin coating of sweetness is a fiery core of total insanity.

Friday, December 2, 2011

My Hypertufa Projects, Part One

Well, I did it. I put on my big girl panties this afternoon, set up a folding table in the garage, and took a stab at making stuff with hypertufa. I decided to work in the garage because although we don't have any snow, it has been rather cold lately, with temps barely making it into the low 40s.

I've been gathering supplies for a while. My plan was to make a rectangular birdbath, similar to the one from the book Concrete Garden Projects.

This one is square, but I decided to make mine rectangular, and to offset the circular birdbath depression.

I started with buying some hypertufa mix from Dirt Couture. Concrete and Portland cement comes in 50-lb. bags at Lowe's or Home Depot, but I didn't want to bother trying to wrestle with that kind of weight. It was just easier to order a 7-lb. bag.

Hypertufa, sometimes just called tufa, is a mix of Portland cement, vermiculite and peat moss. When mixed with water and then molded into forms like troughs, it looks very much like a natural limestone rock called tufa. Natural tufa can be drilled into and used for rock garden plants. Hypertufa has a much rougher surface than cement or concrete, but it is much lighter and it also makes a good growing surface for moss.

Here are some of the other supplies I knew I'd need.

A clean dishwashing bin to mix the tufa in

Kitchen utensils for mixing and smoothing the surface (these will be dedicated for use with concrete and cement)

A silicone cupcake pan for making star shapes

Water, Pam and rubber gloves

A small cake pan to push into the mix to make a depression for the birdbath

Half marbles to make a mosaic design along the edges.

I dumped the dry hypertufa mix into the dishpan, and then gradually stirred water into it. I might have used a little too much water. The instructions said it should look like wet cookie dough, and should hold together when you squeeze a ball of it in your hand. It did, but a little bit of water also ran out when I squeezed it.

Doesn't really look like cookie dough to me. Brownie batter maybe.

I might have made it a little too wet, the water tended to pool in spots when it sat for a few minutes.

I started out by filling one star shape in the silicone mold, and then sprayed a good amount of Pam all over the bottom and sides of the rectangular container that I was using to make the birdbath.

I used way more Pam than I would ever use for a cake. I am so afraid that when the time comes, the mold won't release it.

Then I started patting handfuls of mix into the bottom of the mold. It seemed the more I patted it, the more slushy it became. Water would rise to the surface. I pressed the bottom layer of mix all around the mold, patting it well into every corner like I would with a buttery crumb crust on a cheesecake. Then I put more on top of that, adding it in handfuls and patting it down.

Once it was at a level I wanted, I tried leveling it a bit with the offset spatula. Finally I sprayed the bottom of the cake pan, and pressed it down into the mix, trying to keep the pan as level as possible. To hold it down I piled rocks into it (I had read that without a weight to hold it down, the mix might push the pan up as it dried.)

I tried adding the little half marbles around the edges, but the mix was so wet that they started to slip too far into it, under the surface. So I fished them out. I'll maybe try adding them after it dries, with some kind of adhesive.

I ended up with way more than I needed for the birdbath mold. I filled up all the rest of the star shapes in the silicone cupcake pan.

The birdbath in the book had a heart-shaped ornament balanced on the edge. But I'm not really a hearts/unicorns/rainbows kind of gal. I'm more into sci-fi/fantasy/swords and sorcery, so stars made more sense.

I still had even more mix to use up. Good thing I had been gathering a few other things to use as molds. The other day at the thrift store I picked up these little loaf pan things, and some votive holders. I sprayed them with Pam, plopped in some more mix, and then sprayed the bottoms of the votives with Pam and pushed them into the mix. I'm not real sure what I will use these for when they are done (provided they turn out usable). Maybe they'll hold a chunk of moss, or some little sedums or succulents. Or maybe I'll put a votive candle in them!

The last bit of mix went into one half of a cake mold, designed for making round cakes decorated like balls used for sports.

Into the middle of that I pushed a little silicone cupcake mold.

I finished up by pouring water into the dishpan and rinsing it out outside in the driveway. Never, ever wash utensils used for concrete or cement in your kitchen or bathroom sink, it could plug up your plumbing. I cleaned the utensils and my gloves in more water in the dishpan, which I then dumped outside.

I put all of the filled molds into large black trash bags, and pulled the drawstrings shut and folded them over. They will take 48 hours to dry to the point where I can unmold them.

I can't wait to see how they turn out! Can you?